Darren Aronofsky's 2010 film Black Swan is a fascinating look at inhibition, obsession, madness, and the quest for perfection in the ballet world with an Oscar-winning performance by Natalie Portman. But nearly all of the interviews with the makers and stars of the film seemed to be fixated on the fact that Portman and co-star Mila Kunis kiss. For some reason, this is what the media thought was the most important, interesting aspect of the film, obsessing and giggling about it like tweens with a juicy rumor.
Unfortunately, that seems to be happening again with Blue Is the Warmest Color, which won the Palme D'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Despite the fact that it's an over three-hour-long intimate epic based on a graphic novel that features one of the year's most mesmerizing performances (by a 19-year-old, to boot), all the media wants to talk about is the film's minutes-long, explicit love scene between the film's two stars, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux -- which became even more "newsworthy" when the actresses told an interviewer how demanding and insensitive director Abdellatif Kechiche had been while filming the scene. But that scene is hardly a reason to see or avoid this film. You should see Blue Is the Warmest Color because it's one of the best, most realistic stories about first love, heartbreak, and growing up that I've ever seen. Watch my ReThink Review of Blue Is the Warmest Color below (transcript following).
Check out a video of my review here.
Blue Is the Warmest Color won the Palme D'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, but most of the press around the film has focused on the fact that it has a several-minutes-long, very explicit lesbian sex scene. It's only a small part of this moving three-hour-long film about a teenager's first love and her transition to adulthood. But, like a gaggle of middle school kids, lesbian sex seems like the only thing the media wants to talk about, especially after the two actresses in the scene told an interviewer how demanding and insensitive the director had been while shooting it and how they never wanted to work with him again. But while there's definitely a story there, it should by no means overshadow this triumph of a film that may be the best, most realistic movie about the transformative power of a first true love that I've ever seen.
Adèle Exarchopoulos plays a character also named Adèle, who we meet as a 15 year old. Uninterested in guys at her school and fighting accusations that she's gay, Adèle decides to indulge her curiosity by tracking down an openly gay college art student named Emma (played by Léa Seydoux). Despite their differences in age and experience, the two are irresistibly drawn to each other, beginning a passionate love affair that we watch through its ups, downs, and sideways skids over a handful of years as Adèle graduates high school and becomes a schoolteacher as well as Emma's artistic muse, helping Emma get a foothold in the city's art scene.
Blue Is the Warmest Color is commonly called a lesbian love story, which, of course, it is. And while the film does have a few scenes reflecting the struggles of being openly gay in a country like France which recently saw major protests against gay marriage, the film mostly -- and very effectively -- uses homosexuality as more of a metaphor to amplify and intensify the giddy feeling of newness, adventure, openness, and a long-sought completeness that accompanies a first great love. Of meeting someone who helps you discover a world you never knew existed but somehow always wished for, making everything seem new while teaching you about love, relationships, and yourself.
The fact that Emma is Adèle's first gay relationship adds some tension, but the episodes we see of her relationship with Emma are something anyone can relate to -- utterly realistic representations of meeting parents for the first time; wanting to quietly impress your partner's more mature and cultured friends; and what to do when passions fade, restlessness and distance set in, and the relationship is pushed past the breaking point.
Now about that sex scene. The women are very naked, and while I'm one of the few straight guys without a lesbian fetish, it's definitely hot. I also think it's too long, since you get the point of the scene pretty quickly, to the point that it does start to feel creepy. That said, it's not terribly long when you consider that the movie stretches over three hours, and there are plenty of longer scenes of Adèle teaching children, at social functions, and enjoying the contented life of a budding, good-looking young couple, as well as scenes that portray the painful real-time of tearful, violent fights, uncomfortable silences, and Adèle attempting to live a life among the splinters of a broken heart.
Honestly, I think it's embarrassing that so much time has been spent on this sex scene, which has somewhat obscured the fact that Blue Is the Warmest Color is an intimate yet epic movie that somehow doesn't feel long while making the love story genre feel not just fresh, but raw, immediate, and important. Excharpolous' performance is a thing of wonder, especially since she was only 19 when the film was shot, and further solidifies 2013 as the strongest year for female performances that I can remember, with Seydoux also deserving of a supporting actress nomination. So please, don't get distracted by the puerile sideshow over naked ladies grinding, or you'll miss a terrifically modern love story that also happens to be one for the ages.